Snowmobile The Quebec Maritime (Dan Gould)
Published on December 10, 2010 in News & Updates, Snowmobile Travel
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A trip to Europe may not be in the budget this year but that hardly means a snowmobile trip is out of reach. Just a few miles north of the Maine border lie the quaint villages of the Quebec Maritime where French is the native language and traditional cultural experiences surround. Little more than a day’s drive will deliver most travelers from Central Massachusetts to Quebec, Canada’s largest province.

The four-season resort of Pohénégamook Santé Plein Air in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region is a popular starting point for a weeklong trip in the Maritimes. Late afternoon arrivals are often greeted by a herd of deer that hoof down the mountain toward the lake to feed. After checking in, many guests relax in the outdoor Nordic spas. The Scandinavian therapy consists of saunas and cool water basins, complemented by a glowing fireplace and soothing multi-hued lights. An enchanting place, indeed.

Snowmobile Vacation in the Quebec Martime

While a typical sightseer might tour the region behind the wheel, those who consider themselves even remotely adventurous should seriously consider exploring the countryside in a style more conducive to the surroundings and culture. No, not in a Citroen, but on a snowmobile. Such a move will transform a simple vacation into an outright journey.

Thousands of kilometers of trails are groomed to perfection, allowing travel by sled from December through late March. Touring by snowmobile directly connects the rider with winter’s natural beauty unlike any other mode of transportation. A one-dimensional view through the grime-covered windshield of the family SUV simply cannot deliver the all encompassing sensation of the mighty Saint Lawrence River making its way to the Atlantic. That winter vista of the Gaspésie shore is reserved for those riding sleek snow machines on miles of spectacular mountain switchbacks to the top of Mont-Saint-Pierre.

Cap-Chat and Chic-Choc Mountains, Snowmobile Trans-Quebec Route 5

Never snowmobiled before? Not a problem. With a map in hand, navigation is relatively simple. Trails are numbered much like highways and clearly point you in the direction of hotels, restaurants and key attractions, such as the giant windmill farms in the Matane region or picturesque lighthouses that dot the estuary. Sled rentals are available at Panda Aventures. Proprietor and Rimouski native Steve Gaudreau is available as a guide. His keen sense of conditions and vast knowledge of the area make the adventure far more enjoyable.

Trailside lodging and cuisine are plentiful, with styles ranging from relaxed to formal. The hand-built log inn, Domaine Valga, in Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski, is warmed by a cast-iron woodstove; the family dog greets visitors upon arrival. The Gagne family serves traditional Canadian homemade meals, like salmon baked in maple syrup, to dangerously delicious desserts and entertaining mix of conversation in French and English.

Further west, the white-capped Cap-Chat and Chic-Choc Mountains dominate a suede blue sky over Trans-Quebec Route 5, a 2,000-mile snowmobile route that crosses the province. Riders from all over New England, and the rest of the continent, for that matter, happily cruise at 40mph atop the 50 foot-wide trail. The corridor flows like a river, seemingly with no end. Side trails lead into the mountains and short evergreens encroach the narrowing path, each corner revealing one stunning view after another. Riders are parked along the edges, helmets off, taking snapshots of each other in front the majestic panoramas.

Domaine Valga, Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski

Domaine Valga, Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski

On these short winter days, dozens of yellow and red Ski-Doos are parked in front of Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs just as the sun vanishes behind the tiny village of Cap-Chat. The table d’hôte features a smoked salmon bow appetizer, perfumed with lime, followed by a surf and turf entrée of scallops and tenderloin. A French-born waitress wears a long black jacket with buttons down the center. She hastily moves from table to table, somehow managing to hold an air of elegance while balancing a decorative dish of burgundy snails à la Provencale. The dining room at the hotel is packed. The background chatter is a mix of languages, not easily understood, but clearly everyone is excited, recalling the day that was and making plans for the next.

Ice crystals twinkle in dawn’s first light, as a group of two make an early start on freshly groomed trails, which look more like poured concrete than snow. Pristine conditions allow quick, precise riding: a euphoric sensation that seasoned snowmobilers dream of all year long. Quebec has a longstanding reputation of superior trail conditions, allowing hundreds of miles of travel in a single day. This was one of those days, with only a single stop in the afternoon.

A large crowd of sleds and riders just about block the trail outside a local clubhouse where lunch is served. Two-fisted club sandwiches and traditional servings of poutine, french fries smothered in cheese and gravy, are standard fare. Hot, tasty and inexpensive. Locals know that the clubhouses offer some of the best trailside meals. Every traveler should know, too.

The lunch crowd disperses in a cloud of snow-dust. Some are out for a day’s ride with the family, others are on a 1,500 mile week-long expedition from Montreal. The miles traveled are not what this is all about. Snowmobiling is about glimpses of coastal towns bathed in red and blue skies and rock faces that climb hundreds of feet out of the evergreens. The memories are cast by the intimate connection of being outdoors. It’s the difference between critiquing a painting on a wall versus actually putting oil to canvas; an experience delivered in vibrant colors while in the saddle of an “iron dog” in the Maritimes.

Snowmobile mountain switchbacks to the top of Mont-Saint-Pierre.

In Search of Snow

Snow can really ruin a winter. Not enough of it, that is. Last season was tough all over, with little or no snow throughout most of northern New England. Not only did they have all of our money in Washington D.C., they had all of our snow, too. Talk about being slapped around. By late February, I had had enough, and packed my bags. Eight hours later, I arrived in the Quebec maritime. Finally, snow, and plenty of it.

I’d never ridden in the Bas-Saint-Laurent or Gaspésie regions before and had no idea what to expect. Friends had told personal stories, and the photos online looked nice, but being there was something else. Physically, Quebec isn’t all that far from home, but mentally, you believe differently. It’s a compilation of the language, food and traditions; all of which are quite good and give the sense of a vacation far away from all your worries. Yeah, the cell phone worked, but I kept if off for the most part.

My stay lasted just under a week. We rode easy miles, cruising about 150-200 miles a day, through some of the most spectacular scenery I’d ever come across. If you’re a high-mile junkie, you could travel in excess of 300 big ones in a day; no problem. The trails are that good. The endless mountain ranges and long views over the St. Lawrence River are what I enjoyed the most, not to mention the great chocolate desserts. Word of warning: You should avoid this place if you like to ride all day and eat all night, because that’s just about all there is to do. Just kidding, you can flop around in a Nordic spa and have a relaxing massage, too. Did I mention the desserts? I’m surprised I ever made it back home. Yes indeed, it is that good.

Rent or Trailer?

When I visited Yellowstone a few years ago, trailering wasn’t even considered, but Quebec is closer to home, and taking your own sled is an option. So why would you rent? Consider this: driving by car versus truck & trailer will save upwards of $300 in fuel and allow much quicker travel. A 7-day trail pass costs $180 per sled but is included in a rental. Wear and tear on your sled and trailer are eliminated. We’re talking over 1,000 miles on each. Mechanical failures? So long as you didn’t inflict the damage, you don’t pay a dime for repairs. Renting can make good sense.

Panda-Aventures-Snowmobile-Rentals-Rimouski-Quebec

Dan Gould with Steve Gaudreau, of Panda Aventures Snowmobile Rentals, Rimouski, Québec, pose in front of an authentic log cabin, which was just about buried in snow.

Panda Aventures
460 2ème Rue Est, Rimouski (Québec) G5M 1R6
Tél: (418) 725-PANDA (7263) / www.pandaaventures.com
Proprietor and Rimouski native, Steve Gaudreau, is a genuine snowmobile guy; a great one at that. He rents sleds, motorcycles, ATV’s and more. Panda is the only rental provider in Quebec that carries all four brands of sleds, so you should be able to ride something you’re familiar with. You could even go crazy and try out something completely different. I did. Rental fees hover around $200 a day, depending on the model. Weekly rates are even better. The cost includes helmet, clothes and boots, which you may not need.

Lodging in Quebec Maritime

Auberge L’Ambassadeur
266, boulevard Saint-Benoît Ouest, Amqui
418 629-6464 / 1 888 588-6464 / www.auberge-ambassadeur.com
A modern facility with all the bells & whistles: restaurant, bar, exercise room. Close to many businesses and services that snowmobilers may need. What’s unique: a secured garage to park your sled in; leave the canvas cover at home.

Domaine Valga
300, chemin des Écorchis, Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski
418 739-4200 / www.domainevalga.com
A beautiful log inn, hand-built by the family that runs the lake-side facility. Relax by the wood stove after a day of riding. What’s unique: obviously the log building but the home-cooked meals and desserts are outrageously good.

Hôtel Levesque
171, rue Fraser, Rivière-du-Loup
418 862-6927 / 1 8000 463-1236 / www.hotellevesque.com
A fabulous hotel/resort that offers views of the mighty St. Lawrence River. Beautiful facility, gorgeous rooms, family-friendly, health spa. What’s unique: good choice if your significant other doesn’t like to ride everyday.

Pohénégamook Santé Plein Air
1723, chemin Guérette, Pohénégamook
418 859-2405 / 1 800 463-1364 / www.pohenegamook.com
The resort is all about active families. Nordic spas for the adults and snow tubing for the kids. They offer many lodging options. What’s unique: this is the place for families. Activities for the kids and opportunities for adult relaxation.

Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs
951, route Saint-Octave, Cap-Chat
418 786-2349 / 1 800 530-2349 / www.villagegrandenaturechic-chocs.com
Nine cottages sit below the main hotel in this quaint village. French dining is an experience not to be missed. A place where rustic charm and European elegance collide. What’s unique: spellbinding views from the balcony are unforgettable.

Photos by Dan Gould


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